The seizure of the Rotunda concert hall by a reasonably large group of unemployed workers, and the hoisting of the red flag over the premises, remains one of the most bizarre and understudied events of the Irish revolutionary period.
In his excellent history of the ITGWU, The Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union: The Formative Years C. Desmond Greaves wrote that, early in 1922 “….industrial conflict took the form of individual struggles rather than a concerted class war.” The occupation of the Rotunda came two days after the foundation of the new state, and was perhaps the earliest example of class anger within it, a direct response to the existing high levels of unemployment. One of the leading figures of this occupation was Liam O’ Flaherty, today well-known as the author of The Informer, the classic novel, but then acting as a dedicated socialist.
He, like so many other unemployed men in Dublin, had served in the Great War, serving with the Irish Guards. He had been on a strange journey before returning to Dublin, and Emmet O’ Connor notes in Reds and the Greens that “After being invalided out of the British Army he set off trampling about the Mediterranean and the Americas, joining the Wobblies in Canada and the Communist Party in New York. He returned to settle in Ireland in December 1921….”
On January 18 1922, a group of unemployed Dublin workers seized the concert hall of the Rotunda. The Irish Times of the following day noted that “The unemployed in Dublin have seized the concert room at the Rotunda, and they declare that they will hold that part of the building until they are removed, as a protest against the apathy of the authorities.”
“A ‘garrison’, divided into ‘companies’, each with its ‘officers’ has been formed, and from one of the windows the red flag flies”
Liam O’ Flaherty, as chairman of the ‘Council of Unemployed’, spoke to the paper about the refusal of the men to leave the premises, stating that no physical resistance would be put up against the police and that the protest was a peaceful one, yet they intended to stay where they were.
“If we were taken to court, we would not recognise the court, because the Government that does not redress our grievances is not worth recognising” O’ Flaherty told the Times.